Pantherphan: Sam, How do you think Pitt's rushing game will fair against the Irish's staunch defense?
Sam Werner: That's sort of the one area of the matchup that I keep coming back to when I think about ways Pitt can win this game. Notre Dame really hasn't let anyone run against them this year, and Pitt's rushing attack has had some fits and starts over the last few weeks. I do think this is one of the key areas for Pitt if they want to pull off the upset, but I'm not to optimistic about their chances. They'll be starting a first-time starter at right guard (likely Arthur Doakes) and Notre Dame's front seven is just really, really good. The line surprised me against Virginia Tech, so maybe they can do the same Saturday, but Notre Dame is a whole different animal.
That said, if they can run the ball, I think this has a shot at being a close game. I would be very surprised, given Notre Dame's performance to date, if that happens though.
TacoFromTheSouthHills: Given the unstable climate and political nature of the WCW locker room as well as the lazy nature with which the WWF has approached competition since the Vince Russo debacle, that ECW can make a serious play as a national promotion with their impending TNN deal? Do you see Raven ever returning to ECW?
Sam Werner: Wasn't a wrestling fan growing up, so I have literally no idea what you're talking about. However, I'm glad the '90s showed up for this week's chat.
Yellowdog: Where do you see Robert Foster going?
Sam Werner: Ah the question on everyone's mind. It's really tough to say at this point. Foster has been very hush-hush with the media when it comes to his college decision. He has taken to Twitter over the last few hours to air his thoughts on the decision, but he literally JUST tweeted that he will take his official visits before he decides. I think it will ultimately come down to Pitt and Alabama, with Pitt definitely having a strong chance. That said, if he thinks he can go be a player at Alabama, it's hard to blame him, as the Crimson Tide are probably the best program in the country right now.
Hail2Pitt: Oklahoma had some success throwing the ball (though short) against ND--would it be wise for Pitt to do the same aside from trying to run the ball?
Sam Werner: To an extent, yes. Brian Kelly said after the Oklahoma game, though, that Notre Dame was happy to let the Sooners dink and dunk down the field but his defense wouldn't let them get in the end zone. It's hard to argue with that approach given the result.
I do think Sunseri is going to have to be sharp if Pitt wants to win, and hit a big play every once in a while (which the Sooners weren't able to do). The other difference I see is that Pitt is going to have a tougher time protecting the quarterback than Oklahoma did. Offensive line coach Jim Hueber admitted earlier this season that Pitt had a problem getting out-athleted on the outside, and if that was the case against teams like Louisville and Cincinnati, it's a little concerning to think about what it's going to be like against Notre Dame's ????ber-athletic ends.
Alex: What is your gut feeling on Robert Foster? Is he coming to Pitt or going to Bama?
Sam Werner: I totally understand the question, and I'm not trying to dodge it or anything, but it's just really hard to say. Usually you can get a feel for the way a kid is leaning by talking to him, but Foster has been pretty much totally silent on the issue. It wouldn't surprise me if he decided either way.
sricebklyn: How does pitt match up defensively?
Sam Werner: The linebacker position would concern me right now. I think the problems with the rushing attack from the Youngstown State and Cincinnati stemmed from some linebackers being out of position, and having a first-time starter in the middle is sort of a tenuous situation. More so, it's very unclear who Joe Trebitz's backup would be if he had to come out for any reason.
If Notre Dame can run the ball effectively, this one could get ugly. The biggest theme from their two blowouts (over Navy and Miami) was them running the ball well. Even though they're coached by Brian Kelly, this Notre Dame team is a run-first offense. If they can run well and limit what Everett Golson has to do, it'll be a long day for Pitt's defense.
Merry Chrystmas: Pederson did a good job in the past bringing pitt athletics back to life. That being said, what will it take for him to lose his job? Any other program in the country would have canned him by now. You would think after the way he conducted the crazy orchestra of coaches and the donors threatening to hold back offerings, good ole Nordenberg would have let him go. What is the real reason he is still here?
Sam Werner: Look, I realize a lot of Pitt fans aren't too happy with Steve Pederson, but let's take a look at things here. Yes, the Michael Haywood situation was a total, unmitigated disaster for Pitt, but it's hard to blame Pederson entirely for Todd Graham skipping town after just one season. Also, despite his character flaws (to put it mildly), Graham does seem like a decent football coach. And I think it would be hard for Pitt fans to criticize the Paul Chryst hire at this point.
Also, and really most importantly, Pederson is a guy who not only got Pitt off a sinking ship with moving to the ACC from the Big East, but was able to negotiate an early departure as well. That alone should buy him some good will with the fan base. Pederson definitely isn't perfect, but just think about how plenty of ADs would have stayed loyal to their conference and tried to keep the Big East together.
Sam Werner: Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Got nothing in the queue right now. Feel free to ask your personal variation of "Where is Robert Foster going?"
BBVA Committee: If Pitt finishes 2-2 down the stretch and sits at 6-6 for the season, will they make a bowl or be left out?
Sam Werner: They'll make a bowl. In all honesty, maybe to go see you guys down in Birmingham again (though we can all hope that doesn't happen).
In all seriousness, Pitt's bowl destination mostly relies on whether or not Syracuse can get to six wins and become bowl eligible. If the Orange do, the Pinstripe Bowl will likely pick them and their big NYC alumni base to play at Yankee Stadium and Pitt will be heading back to Birmingham. If the Orange don't get bowl eligible and Pitt does, the Panthers will probably be the only Big East team eligible outside of the big three of Louisville, Rutgers and Cincinnati. That would mean a trip to Yankee Stadium to play the seventh-place Big 12 team (which could very possibly be West Virginia). I think Pitt/WVU at Yankee Stadium would be slightly cooler than Pitt/whoever down in Birmingham again
Merry Chrystmas: Wannstedt went 8-5 with tino sunseri, and Chryst is doing good things with him this year. Do you think that Tino is a decent qb after all and he was treated unfairly by the fans? Last year is making it look like it was Todd Grahams system that was crippling tinos performance.
Sam Werner: I do think Sunseri has gotten a sort of bum rap from the fans criticizing him. This kid had to change offensive systems three times, which is difficult to do just once. He was a total square peg in a round hole last year for Todd Graham, but in the pro-style offense where he can rely on playaction passes, he's shown himself to be pretty good.
It's important to realize what Tino Sunseri is. He's not going to be Dan Marino at quarterback. He still has some issues with his pocket awareness and still hesitates sometimes on his throws. But, I said coming into the season that if he could be the equivalent of Scott Tolzien from Wisconsin's 2010 offense, Pitt would be just fine. I think he has even exceeded that projection. The rest of the team has had some struggles that maybe we didn't see coming, but it's hard to blame Sunseri for the run defense in the first two games, for example.
Curious: How much playcalling does Rudolph do? Or is Chryst making all the calls?
Sam Werner: As far as I understand, it's Chryst making the specific play calls. He and Rudolph have a good understanding going into the game of what they want to do in certain situations, and talk during the game about overall game-planning, but it's Chryst making the specific calls.
Peters Pub: If Pitt wins do you promise to get a haircut?
Sam Werner: Deal.
Joe Rudolph the raindeer: What is pitts schedule looking like next year? Couldnt really find much online. What teams should we expect to see the panthers play?
Sam Werner: Well, they'll move to the ACC for the conference schedule, which means games against division foes Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Duke, UNC, Virginia and Miami, plus their crossover game against Syracuse. They'll have one more ACC opponent that's to be announced. Out of conference, they have games scheduled at home against Villanova and Notre Dame, and a road game at Navy. There will be one more non-conference game added to the schedule. It will be a home game and, given the timeline, I wouldn't expect another big name team. Likely a MAC school (if they can get it) or a I-AA.
4-OT Mustache: No way ND blows out Pitt. They have to be coming down from cloud 9 from the OK win. Now the media is all over them. This is the perfect storm for Tino to get his marquee win @Pitt.
Sam Werner: I don't totally disagree with you. There are a couple of ways to look at that, though. Notre Dame already played a "trap game" earlier this season against BYU. Coming off the emotional Stanford win, with Oklahoma looming the week ahead. They didn't have Golson, and it was certainly ugly, but they pulled out the win. Even afterwards, Notre Dame players admitted they didn't play well. For Pitt to pull it off, they need to have Notre Dame looking forward to the BCS standings, and execute the same gameplan BYU did of limiting Notre Dame's offense and making just enough plays themselves to keep it close.
I talked to Notre Dame DE Kapron Lewis-Moore last night, and I thought his take on the "trap game" premise was interesting. He basically said, flat out, "We're not a good enough team to look past anybody." I think that's a unique mindset for a team in Notre Dame's position, and one that might just help them in games like this one.
Hail2Pitt: What kind of QB do you think fits into Chryst's system going ahead into the future?
Sam Werner: I think the best thing about Chryst's system is that there really isn't a "prototypical" quarterback for it. He's very good at tailoring his game to the talent that he has. Sunseri, and most of his Wisconsin quarterbacks, have obviously shown that Chryst can make it work with a drop-back passer and a sort of "game-manager" at quarterback. It's also, though, hard to ignore what Russell Wilson did with the Badgers last year. I would even argue that (especially in the Rose Bowl) Chryst kept him bottled up a bit and didn't let Wilson go play and use all of his talents. That's the kind of guy Pitt has coming in next year with Tra'von Chapman, so it will be interesting to see what kind of offense Pitt is running in 3-4 years if Chapman is the starter.
Tyler Palko: Just wanted to let you know that I love this f**king team!! Go Pitt!
Sam Werner: Man, we're awesome.
Guest: I hear some people say that Pitt sharing facilities with the steelers is a plus in recruiting. Is that overrated or is that true? I dont see why playing at Heinz field in front of 20,000 fans is so much better than say playing in front of 60,000 fans in a filled wvu stadium.
Sam Werner: This is actually true. There are definitely drawbacks for Pitt's approach, with a lack of on-campus facilities and home games on the other side of the river. We all know Todd Graham wasn't too fond of it.
That said, it was really interesting yesterday heading over to practice. Pitt was using the indoor UPMC facility, and had to wait about 15 minutes for the Steelers to finish up in there before they went over. When practice started, there was no animosity, no jealousy. The players on both teams knew each other. Chris Jacobson was talking with the Steelers offensive linemen, and Mike Wallace was joking around with some of Pitt's receivers. Mike Tomlin stopped and chatted with Paul Chryst for about 15 minutes before practice started. That, I think, is a pretty cool relationship for Pitt to have.
ROC: Is Tom Savage the starting QB on opening day next season?
Sam Werner: I think he is the odds-on favorite. Chapman (who's enrolling early) will get his shot, and Voytik will too, but Chryst seems to value experience under center, so I see them probably going with Savage.
MajorMajors: Do you thing we'll see Tino rolling out a lot on Saturday - I don't think our OTs can keep out their DEs...
Sam Werner: That would be one way to handle it. I agree with your assessment that the edge rush will be Pitt's biggest problem Saturday. If they were getting "out-athleted" against Louisville and Cincinnati, they will have major, major concerns against Stephon Tuitt, who is one of the most freaking athletes I've ever seen on a football field.
Sam Werner: That should say "freakish." Stupid auto-correct.
Hail2Pitt: If Pitt wins, what Taylor Swift song will you be playing on repeat?
Sam Werner: That's a tough question, and one I'm not sure I can answer. Notre Dame, though, would certainly go with "I Knew You Were Trouble," because they knew Pitt was trouble when they walked in.
Panther-Hornet: If forced to play, how do you think Capara will do in the middle?
Sam Werner: Maybe, but I think the coaching staff would really hate to burn his redshirt at this point. If for some reason Trebitz got hurt, I think it's more likely that Pitt would go exclusively to a nickel or dime package with more safeties on the field. They'll be playing it a lot anyways Saturday to counter Notre Dame's spread.
4-OT Mustache: Can Pitt recreate the magic from their 4-OT win against the Irish?
Sam Werner: Alright, I've got to hop over and do a radio interview, so this will be the last question.
Basically, yes. I do think Pitt can win this game. It's very unlikely, but Notre Dame hasn't blown anyone away at home yet. They only beat Purdue, a team I think is worse than Pitt, by a last-second field goal.
That said, it is going to take a perfect storm (no pun intended, Sandy) for Pitt to win. They need to shut down Notre Dame's running game on defense, first and foremost. On offense, I don't see them sustaining long drives against this defense, so it'll take a couple of big plays to get them in scoring range. Also, like in any upset, they'll probably need a couple of turnovers and/or some big special teams plays (Lafayette Pitts and Cam Saddler, your stage awaits).
It will be a significant uphill battle, but the opportunity for a special moment is certainly there.
Sam Werner: Thanks for joining this week. I'll be heading out to South Bend tomorrow, so if any Pitt fans are making the trip, Tweet at me (@SWernerPG) and let me know. See you next week!